I enter the elementary school lunch room where a substitute teacher directs me to Majesty*, who is sitting at a round table all by herself. Even before hitting the “blossom” accompanying adolescence, she is stunning – curly waves of brunette-black locks and creamy hazelnut skin.
Her specific race is an enigma, but when we first make eye contact, she radiates an aura of kindness. I introduce myself and ask if anyone had told her she had been assigned a lunch buddy.
“No,” she says, “but that’s great!”
Her cheeky grin expands across her whole face as she finishes off a Little Debbie Nutty Bar. Like any dessert-loving fifth grader, this is the first selection from her tin lunch box, also packed with a sandwich, a nacho Lunchable, and a note saying, “I love you! ~Mommy.”
I’m not one to beat around the bush, so I jump right in, asking her about herself and her family. Majesty does not hold back. She is the youngest of eight. Eight! Her mom has cancer, but she seems to be stable.
At least I don’t have to spend the next eight weeks trying to figure out why I have been paired with you, I think to myself.
A little overwhelmed by these first two statements, I rewind and ask about the ages of her sundry siblings. They range from 50 to 20, and she assures me that they are all fully related. Her mom is sixty and her dad is eighty; some of this math is not adding up to me, but I let it go. And then there is ten-year-old Majesty, who is actually adopted. Her blood mother is her adopted mother’s sister (her “aunt” and “mother” are switched).
Another girl plops down beside Majesty. Nodding to me, the new arrival candidly asks, “Who are you?”
I introduce myself, and with a hint of pride, Majesty adds, “She’s my lunch buddy!”
“Jealous…” the girl says, and her face shows it.
“This is my best friend Kia*. She just moved to Carver.”
I expand our conversation to a ring of three, and I begin to learn a little about Kia. She moved from Roanoke over the summer because her sister returned, and her single mom needed a bigger house. In their old one bedroom apartment, her mom and brother took the bed, so she slept in the closet.
Kia’s jealousy is justified; she deserves a buddy, too.
“I didn’t mind it though,” she adds happily. “It was like my very own fort!”
I love this. I love the lack of self-consciousness and sincerity of these two girls. I love that someone you just met can be your best friend and that you say the special ed girl in your class is so sweet instead of calling her weird. I love that fifth graders are not yet ashamed to have visitors at lunch, that lunch buddies are not a sign that you are struggling, but that you are prized. Coming full circle, they are already making me feel pretty special. While I normally power through my day, bee-lining straight ahead to the next task, this lunch visit decelerates my full-speed-ahead mentality, peeling back my side blinders to the common reality of nontraditional families and everyday poverty.
The thirty minutes pass by in a snap, and I am soon waving goodbye, telling Majesty I’m excited to see her next Wednesday.
Being a lunch buddy is the compulsory service-learning component of my education class. I have realized that the mandatory aspect just enforces weekly consistency, though; my heart is already tied to the elementary school down the road. I have made a new friend, if only for a few months. My professor says that we are to be “vessels of goodness and light” when we interact with the kids. Perhaps Majesty’s day was a bit brightened today. I hope by the end of my visits, Majesty absorbs a little bit of the love that I cannot help but shower upon her.